Does the title of this post speak to you? It did to me once too, still even does sometimes. Now that most of you reading this are in the “adulting” stage of your life, networking events tend to pop up fairly often. Most of them are pretty cool, and they all usually have alcohol, but it does involve talking to people you don’t know. Due to this last reason, there are those who avoid them like the plague. But really, it doesn’t have to be so bad!
About two years ago I decided that I needed to start putting myself out there a bit more to advance my career. I was comfortable with my job and ready to learn about what opportunities were out there to round out my professional life and continue moving forward. I was also thinking about starting my own business at some point, and figured the more people I knew who could help, the better.
My first step was enrolling in the class Leadership Greater Madison, a strong program in the area with a reputation for local professionals to their community and exploring the issues that are currently being faced. A few of my colleagues had gone through the class before, but there had always been at least two people from our workplace there at a time, so they had friends going into it. I chose to move forward knowing no one, and committing myself to 10 full-day sessions with a roomful of strangers. This was one of the best decisions I ever made, and by the time the end of the year rolled around it was a room full of (powerful) friends. We still regularly get together for happy hours!
After Leadership Greater Madison, I decided to put myself out there even more into a few different groups related to my industry (events) and joined groups like National Association of Catering and Events and National Association of Wedding Professionals. These were also scary at first, especially since I felt that I had a less experienced career than others. However, I found that when you’re with a group of like-minded people, there’s actually a lot to talk about! It turns out that the event community in Madison is actually pretty small, and you start to see the same people over and over again. I also credit the people in these specific groups as the ones who inspired me to start HUE, and one of the reasons it is still alive today. These people have all become friends, and friends like to work with one another, therefore referrals are plentiful.
If you are thinking about wanting to network more, my first piece of advice is to just DO IT. It’s going to be scary and it’s going to be awkward, but the more you practice the more comfortable you will get. Also, think long and hard about the reasons you want to meet more people. Are you trying to grow your business? Are you looking for new opportunities? Do you just want to be more social? All of these are acceptable reasons, and it’s likely that others want to do the same and are just as nervous as you. There is no need to work the room and meet everyone at every event (this will make all your conversations less genuine anyways). I usually have a goal of making one new solid connection each time. You can talk about whatever you want too – your jobs, the Packers, or how great the beer is that you’re drinking. There aren’t any rules!
A great place to start is looking for groups that align specific interests. I focus on events, but there are networking groups for every single industry in the world. If you already know that you have something to talk about going into it, it takes a lot of pressure off of you to think of something interesting to say. You could even ask the people you work with if there are any groups they are already a part of, so you can go to an event with a friend.
Finally, make sure that you bring business cards with you to everything. You never know who you’ll talk to and what opportunities will arise. Being prepared and proactive can never hurt. Now, good luck and get out there!